Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are one of the main classes of contaminants in the terrestrial environment. Concentrations of biphenyl, fluorene, phenanthrene and pyrene were added to soil samples in order to investigate the anaerobic degradation potential of PAHs under denitrifying conditions. A mixed population of microorganisms obtained from a paddy soil was incubated for 20 days in anaerobic conditions in the presence of soil alone or with nitrate, adding, as electron donors, PAHs and, in some samples, glucose or acetate. At regular time intervals oxidation–reduction potential, PAHs concentration, microbial ATP and nitrate concentration into the solution were measured. Degradation trends for each hydrocarbon are similar under all conditions, indicating that the molecular conformation prevails over other parameters in controlling the degradation. Poor degradation results were obtained when PAHs were the only organic matter available for the inoculum, thus confirming the recalcitrance to degradation of these compounds. Biodegradation was influenced by the addition of other carbon sources. As better degradation results were generally obtained when acetate or glucose were added, the hypothesis of a co-metabolic enhancement of PAH biodegradation seems likely. Thus, anaerobic biodegradation of PAHs studied, biphenyl, fluorene, phenanthrene and pyrene, seems to be possible both through fermentative and respiratory metabolism, provided that low molecular weight co-metabolites and suitable electron acceptors (nitrate) are present.
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